While the edible oil industry is about to crown Bt cottonseed oil as their next saviour, an RTI sent to the regulatory authority on food safety authority, FSSAI, states that Bt cottonseed oil blending in edible industrial processed oils is not allowed in India.
Further, it states in a reply to the next question that anyone found doing so will be penalised under relevant legal provisions. This puts a big question on the fates of the cottonseed oil industry as over 95 percent of cotton grown in India is Bt cotton. This genetically modified cottonseed is being freely blended into refined and other edible oils as non-genetically modified cottonseed oil despite the regulation against it.
What is Bt cotton?
Bt cotton is genetically modified cotton crop developed and marketed by an American agro-business company Monsanto. The cotton gene has been changed to express a toxin whose gene has been derived from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, and hence is commonly referred as Bt.
Bt cotton first entered India in the late 90s without approval through an event which some call piracy and others count as contamination. The matter only became clear with the Navbharat case in the Gujarat High court, where the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) found cases of contamination and ordered the uprooting and burning of Bt cotton across fields of Gujarat.
In 2002, Monsanto’s Bt cotton got formal approval and the first GM crops was legally planted in India. Since then, Bt cotton has monopolised the cottonseed sector, and today even the Competition Commission of India is dragging Monsanto to court for the anti-competitive and unfair business practises. Today, most cotton in India is Monsanto’s Bt cotton.
As per a journal Bt cotton in India, published by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a lobby group for the biotech industry, 12 million tonnes of Bt cottonseed is sold into the market, most of which lands up with the edible oil industry.
Bt toxins in your food? <
While the industry and the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR)-Nagpur reports claim that there are no Bt toxin in the oils, but are Bt toxins leaking into our food chain? The reality on the ground seems to be obfuscated. The regulatory authority FSSAI, has no parameters in its guidelines nor has it placed any tests or requirements on the cottonseed oil industry or the edible oil industry to perform the required safety tests for the detections of the Bt toxins. They conveniently used the industries' standards to declare the cottonseed oil safe. In simple terms, this is like trusting oil and automobile corporations on climate change or emissions. But we shall discuss this a little later.
As for the Bt toxin in food, in a recent statement to the media, Pawan Agarwal, CEO FSSAI, said that the organisation doesn't have the technology needed to detect the GM protein in food products.
To dig deeper into the subject, I spoke with Dr MS Kairon, former director ICAR-CICR-Nagpur, “As a cotton scientist and with over 30 years of experience, I can tell you there are bound to be traces and residues, which may not be harmful now, but over time with prolonged consumption may result in harmful effects.”
This alarming statement took me to toxicology and biosafety expert Dr Eric Seralini, teaching professor at the University of Caen, Normandy. He is the only scientist in the world to have shown the toxicity of the Bt gene in mammals, and has been a pioneer in addressing biosafety issues. “The current technology cannot be equipped to remove all traces of DNA or toxins in food. This is a non documented legend, so it is possible to find Bt gene/toxin residues in products made from Bt crops like Bt cottonseed (like in cottonseed oil, cake, etc) & Bt maize,” he said.
Bt toxins safe?
While Monsanto claims the Bt products are safe for consumption, Dr Seralini’s research has shown that they are neither safe for humans beings nor animals. “When we (humans) are fed with Bt toxins we will show skin and epithelial and kidney disruptions. But for the animals, they will be sick and deficient. Eating these animals can promote all kinds of infections in the human body furthermore,” Dr Seralini said. Other studies across the world have also found Bt toxins in humans blood and even inside foetuses.
The issue is so grave, that the Parliamentary standing committee(PSC) headed by Renuka Chowdhary in its report 301 on “GM crops and their environmental impact” reprimanded the key agriculture, veterinary and medical authorities of India for lapses in independent scientific research. The panel also instructed them to conduct rigorous scientific studies before arriving at conclusions.
“86. The Committee observes that there are several animal studies indicating serious health risks associated with GM food including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system which should also be examined thoroughly before arriving this conclusion that there lies no negative impact on animal health on account of GM crops.”
Report 301, PSC ST on GM Crops & Environmental impact August 2017
So finally, is your edible oil really edible? For it would be terrible to know that secretly, or maybe in plain sight, each day, toxins glazed our samosas, puris and vadas. A closer look at the GEAC website text on the biosafety of Bt cotton reveals that all the tests and parameters used to declare Bt cotton safe have been provided by Monsanto itself and not by an independent, scientific, peer-reviewed source.
This makes the situation quite murky, as after the revelations of the Monsanto papers, the ways in which Monsanto used to influence and sabotage independent scientific institutions and individuals has been brought to light. The only question is, can India blindly trust data given by Monsanto for Monsanto products? And more so, should India, at a time when Monsanto’s integrity is being tested the world over , re-examine Monsanto biosafety claims?
So, are Bt toxins safe for consumption? There are two answers, one given by Monsanto saying that they are, which based on own closed door research and the the second answer is no, which appears to be the view of independent scientists and of the Indian Parliamentary standing committee. But one thing is certain, it is illegal to blend Bt cottonseed oil in industrial processed oils including hydrogenated, refined oil, as per the admission of the FSSAI.
The PSC in its report has also demanded that all GM products should be labeled and strongly urged the FSSAI to act upon it, because there is a huge public health risk that may be looming over Indians.
To conclude, I spoke with scientist and environmentalist Dr Vandana Shiva, “ The life of every Indian is important and precious. The government is bound to protect its citizens, hence the FSSAI or any other authority should not rely on the industries’ word, but have its own sovereign and scientific parameters and conduct independent tests. We cannot let Indian lives be played with for the profit of a few greedy corporations.”
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Updated Date: Oct 29, 2017 16:06:02 IST